Only 11 percent of private-industry workers have employer-paid family leave, and leave allowances vary widely. Ernst & Young is one of a growing number of companies offering generous leave, as well as paternity and maternity coaches.

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For the month of March, Johnathan Modisett, a senior manager at Ernst & Young, changed diapers and spoon-fed his newborn daughter. When the baby napped, Modisett checked his work email, not expecting or encountering many surprises during his paternity leave: “I left the office with a good plan in place.”

While many men are reluctant to take paternity leave, Modisett’s careful orchestration of his time off came from working with a paternity coach for three months in advance. Meeting by phone each month, they strategized what Modisett would delegate and to whom, how to encourage his staff to take ownership of client work, and how to better manage multiple teams when he returns.

“My coach would bring up items I hadn’t thought of yet, things that I needed to work through with my teams and my family,” Modisett says.

Only 11 percent of private-industry workers have employer-paid family leave, and Modisett is one of the lucky few: Ernst & Young offers two weeks of paid paternity leave to all dads and another four weeks for men like Modisett who are the primary caregiver when their wife goes back to work. Not only that, Ernst & Young is one of a growing number of companies offering paternity and maternity coaches.

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In the United States, the firm uses in-house coaches who advise employees on what they can expect before, during and after parental leave. In the UK, the firm works with Talking Talent — a coaching and research firm with clients in the United States that include Deutsche Bank, MetLife and Barclays.

Sessions range from group coaching to one-on-one and have become particularly popular with new fathers. “Men often don’t have employee resource groups or forums to have these conversations, so we find the men are incredibly engaged when we offer paternity coaching,” says Karen Rubin, Talking Talent’s managing director for North America.

Hands-on parents

Like many fathers today, Modisett wants to be involved with parenting and household responsibilities. His wife, Kristi, also works as a senior manager for Ernst & Young in Atlanta and took off four months before Johnathan’s leave. Modisett says returning to work as a second-time dad will be different. (His older daughter is 4.) He and his coach worked on a plan for his return: how he can stay an engaged employee, a manager of several work teams and also participate as an involved father of two in a dual-income household.

Modisett will continue to work with the coach for several additional months after his return: “When I go back, I have to be responsible for picking up the children from daycare. My coach suggested I talk to my team about how it’s going to work for them.” He plans to leave at a set time and then review staff work or answer questions later in the evening when necessary: “I think it’s helpful to let them know that this is how I intend to manage my work now.”

Maryella Gockel, Ernst & Young’s Americas Flexibility Leader, says both male and female professionals at the accounting firm have used maternity and paternity coaches, a benefit she says contributes to retention and more engaged managers. Since 2012, the total percent of women returning after maternity rose from 80 percent to 94 percent. Sessions with a coach might take place in person, by phone or by video conferencing and tackle issues that vary by position and season. “Someone who is taking leave during busy season might have a different plan that someone who is taking leave during the summer,” Gockel says.

The coach typically also works with the managers of those on leave to ensure support. The firm estimates its employees experience 1,000 births a year. Since 2012, about 600 have received coaching. In the U.S., coaching at E & Y has become so popular over the past two years that there is a waiting list for both men and women seeking the service.

“Men need role models”

One big obstacle for new fathers is the stigma attached with taking paternity leave. Even when there is a policy on the books, unwritten workplace norms can discourage men from taking time off. Gockel says Ernst & Young tries to combat that by internally highlighting men who take their leave, particularly at senior levels: “Men need role models. It’s never a question the women will take their 12 weeks. I would like to get to place where there is no question the men will take their leave, too.”

Research finds fathers who take paternity leave relish the opportunity and the bond it creates. But where women take three months, men find that two weeks seems to be a safe length of paternity leave before they become concerned they might face repercussions, according to a report by Brad Harrington, executive director of the Boston College Center for Work and Family.

Modisett says he sees the reluctance from new fathers: “Men are concerned if they take time off they will lose a step, miss something important or won’t be viewed as the primary point person with a client. In my view, that’s not the case. It’s not like you disappear. The responsibilities are there when you get back.”

Long-term effects

Research suggests that early, more intense engagement in parenting for men has positive long-term effects for both father, child and even employer. But studies also found working dads are more likely than working moms to feel that they don’t have enough time with their kids.

Delaine Barr, a coach for Ernst & Young says men have become more comfortable talking about their desire to balance work and family and more open about receiving guidance from her during a career or personal transition: “I help them get clear on what their priorities are and come up with an action plan.”

Modisett says he wants more of the bonding moments with his new daughter and will work efficiently with his coach’s help to get them: “The idea of just seeing my kids for half an hour before bed is not desirable for me. I plan to manage my lifestyle and work with my teams to make sure I can recreate some of those moments going forward.”